“It isn’t what you play, it is who you play it with”
Recommended reading music
I was thinking about some of my best gaming days, and I realized that the highlights of my gaming career was centered around Halo for a better part of my life. Before I get too deep into it, I want to get kind of preachy: Halo may not be the best game out there. Call of Duty may not “deserve” to sell 60 billion copies when compared to empirically better games, with better controls, graphics, plot and depth. But while comparing games based on their technical specs is fine, the fact remains that games and gaming are a cultural thing. While we are sitting arguing about how Namco should be spending its money to further develop mechanics in Dark Souls, the people playing Call of Duty are cracking back beers with their friends and having funs. And you know what, it doesn’t have to be Call of Duty. Look at the Achievement Hunter crew - they make any game they play together look amazing to play. From Minecraft to Worms to Monopoly, any game they touch looks like a blast to play, and not always because the game is good. It is because they have a group of people who are all just sitting back, and loving games. I hesitate to bold this next section because it is pretty hippy sounding, but:
Instead of focusing on what you hate about gaming, focus on why you love gaming.
So I wanted to let y’all know why I love Halo so much. FIrst, the single player experience: On Heroic difficulty, the Elites really stand up to you as the player quite well. You always wind up in a situation where you have to use a power weapon or a vehicle to dispatch them, or else you have to be ready for an even fight. This is refreshing from the “you are an overpowered, but weak to grenade God” trope from elsewhere. The thing that really makes Halo Halo is the map design, though. In a game like Fallout, you are free to explore anywhere. In Call of Duty. you have a corridor. Halo splits the difference, creating large arenas chock full of options and baddies for you to explore. Want to use a ghost to take out all the enemies? Go for it! Maybe you can snipe an elite before he boards a Banshee, steal that, and dominate the skies. Why not! Or, you could try to run past everyone. Or go full on Rambo! This implied choice in a shooter makes for a more interesting story to tell later, as your experience differs from everyones, and you can try different approaches. I love any game that uses this layout (so....Halo and Crysis?), which I am officially declaring the Anal Bead style of map layout. You have a big open arena, tiny corridor connecting to the next big open arena, wash, rinse repeat, and if you were to look at the level layout, it would totally be a set of anal beads. Halo: The Butt Sex Toy of the Gaming Industry. You heard it here first.
Halo: Combat Evolved
The more interesting part, and the part more filled with nostalgia, is the multiplayer of Halo. I originally played the game in high school, so I was totally guilty of being “that kid” of this generation. Instead of playing online, I went to my friend’s house, who was lucky enough to have a combination Xbox and DVD player. Look out VHS! On a Friday or Saturday my parents would drop me off at his house, and we would play Halo from 9 in the night until 5 in the morning, sleep for four hours, then play Halo until noon. It was only ever four people, and it was always a blast. Typically, we would kill two bags of nachos and a 24 pack of Mountain Dew, because product placement. We would start with a traditional deathmatch game, then it would turn into a 1 on 1 style tournament bout, then we would work the campaign, and finally it would degrade into making up our own games in the system. One of my favorite aspects of the game was that instead of tying the save data to an account like it will today, the save data was a profile on the main menu, so naturally we had all the gag names. Names such as Corporal Cum, Senior Semen, and of course, Lt. Lapdance. I will have you know that I found Lt. Lapdance as my favorite (as it was the least offensive...I was a little more reserved back then). As the games went on though, I found myself attached to that handle. It wasn’t a joke, it was who I was in that moment in time. It is really fun how you identify with a handle and an avatar (I’ll always miss you dancing Megaman).
The Deathmatches were fun because we would have music going, and we would be constantly throwing out insults, and remarking on different strategies. For instance, one of my friends could not grasp the rock paper scissors concept of the different weapons, often trying to use the Assault Rifle against the shotgun at close range, then getting frustrated when the shotgun didn’t kill us as we ran away from him with the Assault Rifle. I remember that we would often time our kills to the music, trying to kill our opponent every time “click click boom” went “Boom” for added insult. The one on one matches were some of the most intense gaming I have done in my life, as you weren’t just proving to some dork on the internet that you were the best in town, it was a matter of pride between a group of friends. To be the best here was to be both feared and revered. The campaign of the game in co op was amazing - you had a competent driver/gunner, you had an anchor who would hold your spawn while you whittled away at a Hunter’s lifebar, you had a strafing partner in Two Betrayals. For what it’s worth, I honestly love the Halo maps more than I love Half Life’s at times (probably because I just started PC gaming in January). If I had to pick a single favorite level in an FPS, I would take Silent Cartographer over Ravenholm nine times out of ten. I remember how we spent hours upon hours trying to beat the Pillar of Dawn on legendary just to see the bonus cutscene. When we would get tired, we would make up our own game types. Take for instance Vehicle Wars, where you can only kill someone by running them over, but you can take any vehicle you want. We would play that for hours. We would stick as many stickies onto a Warthog as three players could just to see how far we could blast player four. And you know what? If Journey is like seeing the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, then this was like having a wife and kids to me. As much as games have had an impact on my life, as much as games have made me question all of life's values, and made me run the gamut from ecstatic to depressed, I think I still hold higher playing with friends. Unfortunately, we had to move on with our lives, and I eventually jumped over one state to go to college. In this time, I played Halo in a different way...
My freshman year my roommate loved Cowboy Bebop, James Bond, and Halo. It was pretty well a perfect fit. Our dorm’s internet also acted as a LAN, meaning we could pull in as many people as Xbox would allow into one group (16? Really?) at one time. A word of advice on college - freshman year is the best for meeting people. Everyone’s door was open, you could just stop in whenever. Everyone had the same problems, the same decisions, so it was really nice. Sophomore year, groups were established, cliques made their way back in, and it became harder to meet new people. Most of my best friends in college were made through those LAN parties. Usually one or two people on the floor would be playing Halo 2, and everyone else would just jump in until we were at the limit. It started with just the hardest of cores, playing deathmatch and SWAT (one headshot = death) games on the floor. Eventually though, there was a new game mode. The great equalizer. Zombies. Zombies used the same “1 headshot kills” mechanic, but started off as everyone against 1 zombie. Each person killed had to swtich teams (manually - Yay honor system!) and become a zombie. The game rewarded skill, but at the same time didn’t punish you for being new. Every human in a corner with a gun huddled up mattered, and almost anyone could get lucky and pull a headshot. This caused more and more non gamers to join in on our antics. It feels slightly sexist to say this, but we eventually had a 50/50 split of males and females playing because it was so accessible. Cheerleaders, stoners, drunks, and honor rolls were all playing together over LAN, and it was a thing of god damn beauty. Because we were all on a hallway we were usually 2 to 4 to a room, and would be yelling across the entire hall to let the other players know just how better we were. I still remember the screams of other players who didn’t realize that a zombie could get there.
One day, someone broke the Zombie meta in half with a discovery on YouTube: Halo 2 has glitches where if you perform certain actions in a certain sequence, you can jump incredible heights. This allows you to get to positions on the map that offer invulnerability to players who can’t perform the jump, plus it lets you know exactly where the zombies will funnel in from (although typically this wasn’t a problem as you would fortify your area with crates). We would spend time between classes learning the different jumps on the different maps, and trying to figure out the best route and the best time. See, as much as a successful jump basically won you the game, it requires you to run across the entire map, in a defined path, typically without other people. You generally had until there were three zombies before this was a death sentence to attempt. It really changed how the game was played, and kind of added a tier to the skill levels. Instead of breaking it in half though, it invigorated the playstyle. It offered a risk reward factor that didn’t exist from “camp in the corner”.
As the year progressed, the freshman learned how to craft Fake IDs. They learned that alcohol makes the stress of school easier to deal with. And I wasn’t OK with this, and neither were a select few of our original group (the irony being that I am pretty well intoxicated while typing this-but I am over an arbitrary age limit, so its all good.) So we found a new group to play with, a group with strong Christian values, and a desire to play some Halo. I spent so many Friday and Saturday nights in college playing with this group. The best part was that one of them was in college in tandem with being in the military, so he would command his team like a squad - either coaching them to stay together, or giving players instructions on where to position to flank other teams, how to protect the flag, etc. It was a thing of beauty as his team would more often than not win. He would keep giving the same piece of advice to anyone on his team, which was equal parts accurate and hilarious:
Calling out GIMP/Photoshop right here: Way to hard to add black border to white text in either. So had to use less savory means. Deal with it.
This group also had a tendency to call out names before each kill, which was hilarious if you aren't on the receiving end. It would usually go something like “Hey taterchimp!” “What?” *assassination*. Shit talking on the internet comes off as machismo, but between friends it has so much more a rite of passage feel. Playing with this group introduced me to many of the friends that I had through the end of my college years, from future roommates, to people I would use to give a good word in interviews, and even one of my girlfriends. She was constantly playing with the group, but she was “one of the guys”. Whereas many other had the stereotypical girly reactions of things such as yelling at how people were rude for killing them, she was able to dish it out both in game and verbally. We played one King of the Hill match where all of our teammates quit, making it a 5 on 2 game with an objective. Better known as a death sentence. Between the two of us though, we were able to triple the other team’s score before finally claiming victory, and the post game lobby was on FIRE about it. We were throwing out insults, they were making casual guesses at my sexuality, but then my girlfriend started speaking up, and everything changed. Now both of our weights and lives were called into question. Playing along with it, I believe we eventually confessed that we were 300 pound 40 year old hermaphrodites, something along those lines, and this is why we were able to beat them so soundly.
Halo 3 was introduced while Halo 2 was all the rage in my dorm, but the lack of 360s made it hard to coordinate matches, so it was generally a special occasion where we would get together and play. It was in my Junior year that I had a chance to really sink my teeth into it, and it just wasn’t the same. See, by Junior year of college my social groups were well cemented by major, fraternity, and the few remaining friends from Freshman year. So many good friends graduated, transferred, or failed. As such, my memories of Halo 3 were mostly with my roommates playing online, and a lot more against random people online. It never had the same impact. Playing against strangers is so much more aggressive and competitive and there is such a large gap in the talent pool that you find online that it makes it hard to have a consistent experience. It feels odd to leave this section so short, but really, this is where Halo stopped being the force that it was for me.
When my personal community for Halo left, so did most of my interest in the game
I have picked up every Halo release since. I still feel like it is a really well put together game, offering something slightly different than the Modern Warfare experience. But overall, whenever I play it, I am not playing it because taterchimp likes to play it. I am trying to bring back Lt. Lapdance. I am trying to get back those days where we would forget about our homework, open our doors, and kill some zombies. It is a chase for nostalgia, of days long gone. And like I said above, it may not be the best, it may not have the best production qualities or design choices, its narrative may never inspire me or move me to tears...but if games are only to be experienced as an individual, I want out. Even just commenting and blogging here, sharing my experiences adds so much more to the game than just playing it. It really is about who you have by you, not what you are playing. Thanks for reading.
Lets sit around the campfire and sing our campfire song: a bunch of my favorite people left the company I work for, so I have had drinks 3 out of the 5 days of the working week to 'celebrate' with them. Good times. I got particularly inebriated on Thursday, and in my drunken stupor began playing with my Dead Fish and started to get into a pretty nasty funk. To try and improve my mood, I pulled up a few of my favorite YouTube videos, which did a halfway decent job. Then I remembered that there used to be a thing 'round there parts that was just silly videos, so I thought "Whoa..I can barely stand up straight. Good thing I have a glass of Jack Dagnels in arm's reach". Then I thought I could post some of my favorite gaming related videos here. I don't remember which ones of these I picked up from Destructoid, and which ones were just ones that I stumbled upon, but here ya go:
Starting off my favorite video from Birgirpall. The editing and choice of music in this video is nothing short of amazing:
Up next, my favorite Dan player in existence. He might not technically be the best, but this shows what makes Dan the best, and that's what counts. Also, I have literally been emotionally moved by the choice of music mixed with how amazing/hilarious the gameplay was.
Super kawaii no desu meets sprite art. Everyone wins
Can we get some Dark Souls love up in here, Barry? Yes, I think we can, other Barry. Since watching this, "Stop The Rock" has been played an average of twice daily at my house.
RANDOM ROBOT INTERMISSION This video had me in tears the first week that I watched it. I literally couldn't see because I was laughing so hard.
This one I know is from DToid, but with all the talk of Saints Row 4, I wanted to post it in case you missed it the first time around:
Continuing with the theme of what is a hot topic, Duck Tales reboot sure is a thing, and this is sort of related, yeah?
Turkey Bacon is a pretty decent breakfast food with one major drawback: It isn’t bacon.
I know that there are a lot of concerns with regular bacon, just to name a few: price, calories, not being kosher, so it seems only natural to want to substitute it with something a little bit cheaper in an effort to try and liven up your breakfast and/or 3AM drunken pancakes.
Turkey Bacon (breakfast, lunch, dinner [reviewed]) Producer: Oscar Mayer MSRP: $2.99 Rig: GE 5.3 cu ft Glass top stove, Chefmate 6 ½ inch skillet, OXO tongs
Probably the biggest problem that turkey bacon has is that when you eat it, you really are expecting the full bacon experience. So think for a minute what that means: Greasy, crispy (or soggy, if you’re into that, but I don’t swing that way), salty, and overly adored by the internet. Now, when you look at Turkey Bacon, it really is like they took the bacon approach more as a checklist than as a starting pad. Looking at it, you have the same strip layout that we have all come to know and love throughout the year, although the marbling of the fat looks a little bit wonky. It has the same sear in the pan, the same basic texture, but somewhere, they really missed the mark. Really, there is only one word to describe this product: Conceited.
It actually made me pretty sad, because I was starting out my meal with Turkey Bacon before I made some chocolate chip pancakes, and it set a really solid foundation right from the get go. It has the signature sizzle of bacon when you put it in the pan, starting from a shallow layer of grease in the pan to a full sizzle on either side of the strip. This is one of Turkey Bacon’s strongest features. I didn’t want to overload my pan, so I opted to only go for five strips at a time, and despite only having 6 ½ inches to work with [editors note: ha ha! Noses on dowels...], my skillet was more than capable of handling it. Pretty much if you have a pan that can get hot, you should be able to prepare this meal.
At first blush, this really did look like it was going to be like a budget and heart friendly cousin to the bacon family. But as I started to eat the bacon, that’s when several features suddenly began to rear their ugly heads. When you first bite down into a strip, you get everything you would expect - the now brittle bacon breaks off in your mouth, with a satisfying crunch, and your tongue is enveloped in an all too familiar layer of grease. Then, things take a turn for the worse as the crispy texture doesn’t hold through the whole experience, and soon turns into something more spongy. As you are trying to figure all of that out, Oscar Mayer presents another surprise in that the flavor, instead of being the classic and refined taste of bacon, is instead a mellow poultry flavor. Ultimately, it makes sense, but overall it doesn’t deliver the same experience, which really hurt the experience.
Finally, I tried to make a pancake in the remaining grease because there are few pleasures more guilty (one being frying thick cut bacon in a cast iron skillet, then deep frying an egg in the bacon grease. I miss dating a girl who lived on a farm....) The grease did an admirable job of trying to lend its flavor, but ultimately wound up imparting the unsavory musk onto what would have been an otherwise enjoyable chocolate chip pancake.
Overall, Turkey Bacon, to me, is like normal bacon dressing up in drag and trying to pick up guys in the bars downtown. It looks the part, once you get it in your mouth everything seems to be right, but it doesn’t take long before you realize that everything has gone horribly wrong. If I ever meet a strip of bacon in a bar, I would be checking for an adam’s apple is what I’m getting at, here. Ultimately, you are left with a clone that doesn’t understand why the original was so appealing, and it just makes you want to go back to the original experience.
Overall Score: 7.5/10 [7.5’s are a hallmark of being pretty well alright. You might want to eat it if there is nothing else greasy in your apartment if you are pretty well drunk, but you could probably also find a Perkins that is still open. If it were to fix a few fatal flaws and throw in some fatback then it would probably be pretty darn good]
[Ed: This was originally meant to be a review of Turkey Bacon that I had, and well, one thing lead to another. Also, now I can totally go for some bacon. Seriously. Finally, any spelling and/or grammer mistakes are intentional and part of the parody. Totally]
So I have heard tales from faraway lands that people really like to recap what they have been playing on the cblogs, so I wanted to join in on this tradition, perhaps temporarily, and recount the games that I have been playing these days, and the games that I may continue to play:
I have actually never played a Tomb Raider game before, so this was going to be an interesting experience. Long story short: I really enjoy it, when it isn’t showing multiple flaws. I actually sold my soul to the Devil to play this game, in that Origin was the first to hit my price point with a sale on this game (20 dollars), so I purchased it there. And that day, the magnetic poles flipped, cats married dogs, and Jesus came back from Jamaica, because Origin gave me a key to be explicitly activated on Steam. Huh. Best of both worlds, I suppose?
Lets get the bad out of the way first, shall we? The first thing I don’t like is that everyone really, deeply, truly hates Lara. This includes the developers, apparently, because there are several scenes in the game where she gets killed in the most gruesome fashions. Now, I like violence in my game, I giggled like a schoolgirl using the Lancer in Gears, but this violence is just...gross. Its good proof positive that I haven’t been totally desensitized, but I really thought some of it was over the top. An example, you say? While trying to escape a crumbling cavern, if you fail a QTE, a boulder crushes her leg. Then another one crushes the rest of her, focus on her face, with a really unhealthy crack and blood coming down. Just show the rock fall guys. Don’t go the extra mile of showing it break her head. And would you look at that acronym up there? It’s everyones old friend, QTEs! Yaaay. Most of the time these are implemented alright, as the same buttons do the same thing in the same context, but they use an Elite Beat Agent scoring system where you have to hit the button when one shrinking circle overlaps the other one, and my gamer instincts of mash, baby, mash killed me more than a handful of times. Finally, the game took a page from a game I would have never thought anyone would revisit: Battletoads. Remember how much gamers loved that games? Remember the Turbo Tunnels? They’re back, get used to it. At several points in the game, there is a convoluted reason for you to not have control over your character, and you can only dodge left or right, and at the edge of the screen is a mcguffin that kills you, as mentioned above, in the most brutal way possible. These sections are incredibly frustrating as you are stuck using a narrow camera angle, sluggish controls, and the objects that will kill you are oftentimes barely noticeable. So you wind up repeating large chunks of the same stage over and over again only to see the same brutal death animation. No bueno guys. Finally, one of the characters (Sam) has one of the worst voice actors I have had the displeasure of hearing lately.
So the good stuff: This game is as pretty as Lara. Here is my sexist/misogynistic/male babbling about the game - I think it is interesting to look at Lara as a moving target for the female population. She has an early Megan Fox thing going for her in this game (before she went all botoxy and gross...ech), and I think they are trying to make her what is sexy now, as opposed to the huge chested sex machine Lara of the 90’s. Finally, and this is something that I never would have thought I would be typing out, I really like the TressFX hair physics. Sure, it costs me a solid 20 fps, but the effect is actually non sarcastically totally worth it. While it isn’t perfect, it does help out my enjoyment of the game, so I kept it on for the entirety of the play through. Next, I know the term ‘set piece’ is seen as a bad thing when it comes to Call of Duty, but this game does a wonderful job with the set pieces. There is a part where you have to climb a radio tower, and the background, the scale, and the actual climb feels incredible. It really evokes the best parts of Enslaved in this way. The combat is pretty solid, even if you don’t realize for ¾ of the game that every gun can zoom (I thought it was bow only). Speaking of the bow, they really stretched how powerful a bow should be, but I found it quite enjoyable to use. Overall, yes, this game is everything you would expect from AAA development: a decent plot, a likable main character, solid gameplay that never strives to be unique or challenges, but always manages to be at least entertaining, and beautiful hair.
This game finally hit under 15 dollars, so I picked it up. There really isn’t much you can say on the game that hasn’t already been said. It is the videogame equivalent of Apples to Apples: something really funny happens, you laugh at it for five minutes, then when you go to retell the story you can’t remember the combination of things that made you laugh so hard, so you just recommend people play it instead. Yeah. So instead of going in depth, I wanted to share a story I have with the DS version of Scribblenauts. I had a female friend who didn’t typically play videogames over, and thought she might appreciate the game. I explained the controls, the dictionary, all that, and handed the game over. Her first mission: Get a starite down from a tree. How would you go about it? Summon an axe? Conjure up a lumberjack? Create a jetpack? She wrote “pickle”. Huh. She then picked up the pickle, threw it at the star, and picked it up. It really is refreshing to see non linear gameplay come so far.
I was replaying this for two reasons: to see if I could get motivated to write up a Save State on it, and because I wanted to play a mindless shooter (the irony, it burns!). I discovered there are two things I hate about this game: Ludonarritive dissonance. Not that it actually does that, just the term itself. It is a fine term, but it is only ever used to talk about Spec Ops, and usually by someone who has no idea what either of the two words mean. Also, it is one of my pet peeves when someone uses a word in a sentence, then defines it in parentheses only to never use the word again. Basically it is saying “I’m so intelligent (that means smart, for all you idiots who don’t know”) followed by a self indulgent chuckle.
Thing number two about Spec Ops that I hate is that I just don’t get it. I don’t feel it. I have played through it twice, and the first time I was expecting this grand self realization that I never got. I have since watched videos online, read blogs, and really tried to wrap my head around what the game was about, and I feel like I get it, but whenever I play the game it just isn’t there for me. It reminds me of reading a book in high school english, then having to write an essay on it: I could explain exactly what the game is trying to make you feel, the themes, the moments where it makes you question your actions, but that is just me reciting it because I know that is what I should be feeling from it. I just don’t have the passion behind it, I guess. Still, if you haven’t played it, the game is crazy good, and you should play it.
Far Cry Blood Dragon
So this is a game. Sure is. Lets get a few things out of the way: One button makes you give the middle finger and if you mash it you alternate which hands do it, this game wins ‘best use of an outdated meme’ for 2013 with “Imma firin mah lazer”, has an enemy called a robo shark, and has a four barrelled shotgun and gives you a flamethrower. I love that this game is a thing. It is a game that focuses on fun front and center, and in this day and age, is nothing short of amazing.
Getting into the meat of it, this is basically a six to seven hour version of Far Cry 3 set in the 80’s. You spend five of those hours doing the regular Far Cry 3 things: liberating bases, killing wildlife, hunting animals, finding collectables, and basically faffing about. The story is almost disappointingly short, but I really have to say that the main story wasn’t the appeal in any of the Far Cry games to me. I just liked running around. It made me sad that Blood Dragon doesn’t have the depth of animal hunting that 3 did, but it was still pretty fun. I don’t want to get too far into spoiler territory, but the end of the game is absolutely how I like my end games to go: they aren’t a final exam, they are a masturbatory show of power. The last level gives you so many new toys and tools that throw you from “probably overpowered” to “figuratively invincible”, and it leaves this great taste. Instead of ordering a plate of expensive cheeses to test your palette, it gives you an ice cream sundae with unlimited toppings and offers to rub it all over you while you eat it.
Also, Ubisoft definitely had fun poking fun at themselves in the collectibles, which I thought was amusing (they make several references about how the collectables in Assassins Creed suck). They also have a serious hard on for overpowered end game weapons that work by using your life, which is...oddly specific. Overall, the game is really fun, but nothing exceptional. It is a solid step in the right direction for games, and deserves any praise it gets, but also needs a fair share of criticism. For 15 dollars though, you really can’t go wrong.
I wish I knew how to quit you, Dark Souls. I have slowed down to get the above games in my busy, busy schedule, but I started up a Vega (claw, for you international readers) character. As a challenge outside of just “use the claw weapon” I have decided to play the game hudless. This is actually pretty cool as there is a lot of detail that I never noticed before when my HUD was sitting on top of it. It also takes out the ‘choke’ factor from the bosses because I never know if I am really close to finishing them off or still have half the lifebar to go. Spoilers: Its half the lifebar. The claw sucks. I have been using strong magic weapon with the Oolacile catalyst to buff the damage against bosses, but I have made it to Simon and Garfunkel and just haven’t had the energy to get past them yet. Like the Dragon Bone Fist, the claw has a laughable range, so it can be hard to hit boss characters in their boss genitals. It also has a unique after roll attack in the form of you roll forward and do a lunge stab, which is really Vega like, but often times it is a liability instead of a hilarious luxury. Notably against Rogers and Hammerstein where you are frequently rolling to avoid their attacks. Maybe someday I will win against them, but for now a break to other games has been nice.
Finally, I put together a little video for you all to possibly enjoy, featuring all the games mentioned above:
A while back, there was a post saying the next Thi4f was going to be streamlined, including such features as Thief-O-Vision, and everyone lost their mind. Not like when people lost their minds when we saw Snake-O-Vision in a midnight screening of Snakes on a Plane, but still. Because that was an awesome event, and pretty much the only way to experience said film. Rubber snakes were errywhere. But the talking head from the article made a point that really resonated with me, and my paraphrasing is basically that it is necessary to somewhat streamline a game, because players don’t want to play the same section over and over. Now obviously, some games perform this task incredibly well, see Super Meat Boy and Dark Souls, while for other games what he said is 100% true, like Spec Ops and Tomb Raider. So what is the difference?
If you get why that is relevant, part of me loves you (but isn't in love with you)
Hypothesis (that makes it sound science, and you can’t argue science unless you live in Kansas): Games can be measured on two separate scales, one for gameplay, the other for story. While these two scales are not mutually exclusive (terms so stat), when added together, these two values can not exceed a constant c. For purpose of example, assume story and gameplay are ranked from 1 to 10, and the constant is 15, giving us g+s <= 15. In other words, the tightest gameplay you will ever find can only have an average story, and the best story ever told in a videogame can only have passable gameplay. Now if we wanted to show this graphically, and why wouldn’t we, it would look like the below:
And yes, I will speak for us when I say "we". If you don't want to be part of it, just stop reading, Walker
I have taken the liberty of splitting the picture into the distinct sections of games. Before tackling that picture though, I want to explain why I think this is true. It all comes down to this, which I am presenting as an axiom, because it has been about 4 years since I have had the chance to use the term axiom: In order for a good story to develop, the story has to progress at the player’s pace. In order for good gameplay to develop, the game has to go at the designer’s pace. In order to become truly engrossed in a story, you can’t be restarting sections, you can’t be fumbling with the controls, and you can’t be reminded that you are in a game. This leads to several design choices which actively oppose having good gameplay, like a minimal HUD, reduction of challenge, minimizing twitch based actions. This lets the player experience each part of the story one time, with minimal interruptions to the narrative and to the train of thought. In this way, a player can interpret everything that is being presented and figure out how they are emotionally reacting to it, allowing for them to have a clear view of the story as a whole.
On the other side of that, if you have a good game, you can’t tell a good story. Why didn’t Super Meat Boy have a good plot? Could it? No. You look at games like Tetris, Mario, Portal, Star Fox...these games don’t have an engrossing story because as a player you are too invested in the game. Your focus has to be on mechanics, button combinations, and overcoming a challenge. Because these are at the forefront of the experience, there is no room to put in a story that is too complex. Otherwise you wind up with the same scene playing over and over again, and depending on the checkpointing this could be between annoying to just plain silly. Like watching a pivotal character sacrifice themselves, only for you to be shot in the head again, so you get to rewatch the scene. Twenty times. In addition, if you throw in gameplay challenges, the player has to focus 100% of their mind on what is happening onscreen. It is nearly impossible to be thinking about why M Bison decided to set up a world fighting tournament while he is doing a tap dance on your head. But RPGs on the other hand have built in sections where you can sit back and chill without focusing too deeply on your strategy.
I want to give some prefaces to all of this: I do not consider lore to be part of a story. The story needs to be what character arc that the protagonist goes through. Some games have amazing lore, and terrible story (Dead Space 1 is waving at me in the corner...Hi Dead Space!) Finally, gameplay isn’t just a measure of being functional, it is also a measure of being satisfying. Take, for example, the original Final Fantasy. While technically this has gameplay, no one brags about their mad skills in piloting that beast of a game.
In no particular order, the zones:
Zone 7: The Bottom Tier: Not only unremarkable, but moderately offensive. These are games that no one likes, although some may remember these games for other reasons. Notable examples include 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand, and four copies of Eternities Child, duct taped to each other.
Zone 9: The Holy Grail.
A game so engrossing, so amazing, that you have to bow down at it’s sheer beauty. Requiring you to play at 60 frames per second in order to be able to tell when is the correct frame to press the four button combination, easy to learn, difficult to master, and all the while narrating the love child between Harry Potter and War and Peace. The best of the best.
There are no notable examples, as their existence disproves my hypothesis.
Zone 8: AAA
This may come off as controversial, but this totally makes sense to me. These games focus so heavily on having the widest appeal that they cannot have the perfect game mechanics, or a plot that is too risky. The plot has to be some kind of sitcom, feel good story, and the gameplay has to be something that everyone is used to by now. These games are by no means exceptional, but are more often that not better than the rest. Sadly, the lack of excellence in a single area is like a freshman in college trying to figure out their major: of no use to the world. It could be worse though. You could major in communications.
Examples: Call of Duty, any Assassins Creed past the first one (that gameplay was not passable, but that story was all like “whaaat”. Name another series that jumped the shark before it was a series. I dare you.), Battlefield.
Zones 3 and 4: Cult Classics
These games excel at one category, but the other factor drags down the review score. This leads to a situation where a game that has a great story is panned by the reviewers because it has middling gameplay, but all of the fans of the game recommend the story to everyone they meet, or vice versa. Speaking of which, you should totally buy Binary Domain. Ugh, how have you not played that? The hallmark of these games is no one talking about them for four months, then disappearing from everyone’s memory.
RPGs generally are story heavy, but have only what legally qualifies as gameplay. Especially when getting into turn based RPGs the game can be completed by a computer being fed rather simple instructions of “cast spell X, level up skill Y, buy item Z”. That doesn’t mean they are bad games overall, not by any stretch of the imagination, as RPGs tend to tell stories that are capable of captivating all but the most cold hearted gamer, encapsulated in game engine that could be replicated by a DM with some pencil and paper.
Notable Examples: Seriously? Final Fantasy 6, Lost Odyssey, Ni No Kuni (so I hear)
Zone 5: Super Sweet Style Action Games
This zone is home of the games that require pixel perfect play, hitting just the right button at just the right frame of the enemy’s attack animation to trigger your instant refill of your mega badass gauge so you begin to change your uber sword into the mega panther sex bomb maneuver, reducing the boss to ash in a matter of seconds. These games require tight controls, sixty frames per second, and god help you if you try to play them with a keyboard and mouse. Despite being at what many may consider to be the pinnacle of gameplay, there is often a story that involves fourteen more characters and forces at work than it needs, usually resulting in something that gets played out for a laugh, or an incomprehensiblemessthathisjustpartoftheexpierience. After all, you have a combo meter to be working on.
Notable Examples: Devil May Cry, Bayonetta, Ninja Gaiden (the first one...wait...the fourth one. Since when did Ninja Gaiden go all Star Wars on our ass?)
Zone 1: Why Would I Bother with Gameplay?
I want to be semi clear; Zome 1 and Zone 6 don’t have the worst gameplay or story. They have basically none. On a scale of 1 to 10, they are a zero. How delicious is their bacon? Blue.
What if I told you that games not only exist in Zone 1, but are also some of the most universally heralded games? Ohhh it burns! This section is reserved specifically for games like The Walking Dead, Pheonix Wright, Heavy Rain, and Ghost Trick. The Walking Dead barely has gameplay. Barely. It is the videogame equivalent of a chose your own adventure book. But sweet zombie Jesus is the game amazing. Winning several game of the year awards, and gaining the respect of one primate with an affection for potatoes, the Walking Dead delivered what was one of the best stories in gaming by removing all elements of gaming. In fact, whenever it turned into a game, it actually became...pretty bad. The scenes where you had to shoot zombies or stab zombies, or run from zombies all felt so token. I could easily write an entire blog about how rock hard I get when thinking about how well that game tells a story, so I will cut myself off here. Suffice to say that this is probably my favorite area or game, because these are the games that have the most impact on me while playing.
Notable Examples: The Walking Dead, Pheonix Wright, Heavy Rain, Dear Eshter, and Ghost Trick
I dont just have plies of Dark Souls screencaps laying around....WHO TOLD YOU?
Zone 6: NES Games
Of course, this doesn’t just include NES games, but it does give a basic idea. Looking back at Megaman, Castlevania, Mario, Super Meat Boy, and (from the looks of it) Shovel Knight, these games all had rock solid controls, expertly designed stages, and well thought out enemies. These games devoted the entire staff to figuring out which enemy should be placed on which tile to, at first, encourage the player, only to later challenge the player. This is all done at the sacrifice of story, but you never miss it because you are too busy feeling like a champ to care. Unless you played with the Power Glove. It’s so bad. This is also totally where Rhythm games and the Souls series lives. As I said above, Souls games have amazing lore, but overall, the story is pretty meh at the end of the day. It is the rolling backstabs that really bring people into those, right? Right? This also includes all the tournament fighters, except maybe that Persona one. That one is on watch..
“They call me hadouken, because I’m down right fierce”
The last run I did in Dark Souls was a self imposed challenge to use only the whip, and look like Simon Belmont. It was the culinary equivalent of a crepe - difficult to prepare, hard to execute, and the reward is a delicate balance of being fragile and French. This week, I decided to take on the Dragon Bone Fist, the culinary equivalent of a deep fried Twinkie. Decadent. Excessive. Heart stopping. My goal for this run was simple: The last hit on every boss has to be an uppercut. Thats it! This would require me to do something I don’t normally like to do and go into NG+ to capture all bosses before Anor Londo, as I cannot kill them with an uppercut before that point. I decided to go with a theme of Akuma for this run, because he seemed likely to use the Dragon Bone Fist and Power Within, so I rolled with it. With the concept out of the way, some observations:
The Weapons Before getting the fist, I decided to pick up the Zweihander (abbreviated to Zwei, because I can’t be bothered to type it out again) to use as a main weapon, and I quickly found it becoming one of my favorite weapons. It hits HARD. At the end of the game, I had it at +15 for kicks and giggles. In NG+ I used Power Within, plus the Zwei, plus the hornet ring just to see how much damage I could pull off. I parried Havel the Rock and got the most brutal animation I have ever seen: The first hit was normal, then he bashed him to the ground, the he did an OTG smash with it. Total damage? 1800. I believe the English phrase is “phwoar”. Throughout the playthrough I would chant out “Pan” during the windup of the heavy attack and shout out “Cake” when it connected. Good times.
But that isn’t the weapon we are looking at this run! We are looking at Fister Roboto. The best part is? It’s learning. The DBF isn’t impressive on paper: most swings were only doing around 200 damage. However, it swings fast, and doesn’t drain lots of stamina, so it is pretty good as far as a DPS calculation goes. On top of that, Power Within helps to buff that damage up, PLUS you can apply resins. This leads to single hits doing 350 damage, and uppercuts dealing in the 800 range. Again: Phwoar. The only bad part is that the uppercut has a crazy wind up animation (~2 seconds), and the regular attack has incredibly short range. Some enemies can turn you into Darth Helmet, running and swinging, but blocked by their geometry. Overall though, the uppercut makes up for all shortcomings the DBF has, as the animation is hilarious.
I also learned about scaling this run, something that I apparently didn’t understand before: Scaling adds a multiple of the weapons base damage to that weapon. The higher the scaling, the higher the damage. This leads to some odd situations, like with the Zwei and the Fist. The Zwei has a C scaling with str, so why would you want that over the S rank Dragon Bone Fist? The fist’s base damage is 142, and a 40 str scaling is +174. The Zwei has scaling of +214, but has base damage of 325. So C scaling gives 65% of base damage, and S gives +120% of base damage, but the total of the two for the Zwei is much higher. Math? In my videogames? It’s more likely than you think.
How far am I willing to go in a videogame with math, asked no one? In EDF:IA I had a spreadsheet to calculate the DPS of each gun before I purchased it. The formula was something like:
(Damage per bullet * clip size) / ( Reload Time + (clip size/rate of fire) )
I loved that game...
The Gear I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with this guy. Tank? I would need poise and strength, so it made sense. I realized about halfway through that I was going to pick up the Iron Round Shield to try it out, so I might as well pick up the Dark Woodgrain Ring, so I decided to keep my load under 25% for ninja flips, because those are a staple of Street Fighter. I didn’t want to give up poise, so I cranked up my equipment burden with levels and Havel’s ring until I could carry around 135 pounds. I joined the Darkwraith covenant this run because it seemed like something Akuma would do, so I went with the Dark Set for my endgame armor, still while doing ninja flips, with a Zwei. It felt really, really good. Until that point, I was swapping out whatever I could to get the best defense in while keeping a <25% burden with the fist.
I want to talk about the Iron Round Shield: This shield is the real deal. Fully upgraded, it has 68 stability, which isn’t half bad, and it has fairly decent damage prevention (100 physical 72 fire). The best part about it though is that it has a hidden attribute: it has crazy deflection. Almost every attack that hits it both figuratively AND literally bounces off of it. This can be annoying if you have a parry animation you like to use that is mid combo, but it is amazing in so many situations. Case in point? NG+ Capra’s attacks bounce off of it, rendering that boss entirely impotent. And that’s pretty dang cool. I am so sad that I never played with that shield before, because it really has it all. Plus, it can parry! Neat!
The Struggles This was much, much, more fun to execute. Most bosses were really easy, but a few gave me some rather frustrating problems. The major hurdle was the Four Kings - I couldn’t land hits on them because their upper body was blocking my fist from connecting. I had to circle to their back to attack, which cost me dps, which spawned kings, which killed me. Eventually, I killed Pinwheel, got 20 Estus, buffed a +14 Zwei with power within and lightning, and just swapped to fist when I needed to uppercut. A little cheaty, but got there nonetheless.
Grinding out the scales to +5 the DBF was as obnoxious as always - I was cursed on my down the Great Hollow, and those Drakes outside of New Londo are just plain annoying. But the S rank scaling is pretty worth it.
The Gargoyles were also fairly annoying, just because they can dish out damage in NG+ and the uppercut animation gives a huge window for them to stagger you out of the attack. I promise I killed King 3 and Gargoyle 1 with the uppercut, but as I have mentioned before I have to F9 to begin a capture, so I didn’t get the killshot on film. Sad panda.
Finally, Crossbreed Priscilla is a major pain to kill with an uppercut. She isn’t that hard to kill, it is just nearly impossible to land an uppercut on her while she is invisible. I tried to stagger her and get her low enough to be visible when I got the killing blow, but she was as stubborn as she is possibly pregnant, so I had to get it in while she was invisible, with no knowledge of her healthbar. I took upwards of 30 videos of what I hoped was the last uppercut before I decided my strategy was dumb. I finally wound up pegging her with throwing knifes, then proceeded to drive the knife from her sternum to her face with my fist for the finishing blow. It was really, really rewarding, but also pretty frustrating to have so many whiffs. This run, I had time to think while fighting her, and I realized that she drops twin humanities, and seems really reluctant to fight. I started thinking that this could mean that she has a child as well, which would make killing her sadder than Sif. It makes sense in my head, but there isn’t a lot of solid evidence behind it, but in my mind that is now a thing.
The Victories I think the Stray Demon kill was my favorite kill of that boss ever - I got the perfect read and was able to shoryuken him when he went in the air for a divekick. Classic.
After struggling with the moonlight butterfly with a whip, I was able to kill it as soon as it landed with the DBF. That was just vindication.
This is totally me bragging, but I managed to beat Ren and Stimpy on my first try, I beat Ceaseless without taking a single hit, I beat the Bed of Chaos on my first run it, and I beat Gwyn on my first try, killing him with the first uppercut I threw. I’ve gotten pretty good at this game! Total time was 16:27, Soul level 95. That time includes NG+ up through the Iron Golem for all the required footage.
Speaking of which:
As always, thanks for reading! I may have to swap out games from something besides Dark Souls, as my Steam/Origin backlog is looking at me with puppy eyes.